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How to Know When You Need Test Prep Help

Updated: Feb 5

Even for the best students out there, whether it be a standardized test or a subject in school, test taking is tough. There are several good ways to study on your own, but sometimes having a little extra help from a tutor is all you need to improve your scores and reach your goals.

Things you should do on your own first:

  • Take a practice test at home to get a sense of your baseline score and do your best to mimic test day conditions. Turn your phone off or remove it from the room, let your family know what you’re doing, so they don’t interrupt you, and set a timer for each section just as you’ll have at the actual test. Once you get a baseline score, you can make a plan for how you want to improve. (Note: There are services you can pay for to have practice tests proctored, but using a test from a prep book works just as well.)

  • Plan out a study schedule that includes how many days or hours per week you plan to study. It can be especially beneficial to add these time slots to your calendar or planner, so it becomes a regular part of your weekly routine. Many students have great intentions around studying “when they have free time,” but let’s be honest—most of us don’t have much free time. Making a plan is the first step to establishing good study skills.

  • Especially if you’re preparing for a standardized test, try to get a sense of where your strengths lie, and which sections need the most hammering. Oftentimes, students may pick just one or two sections to get help with from a tutor while they continue practicing their stronger sections on their own.

When you should reach out for help:

  • You’ve hit a wall in studying—you’ve done all you can do, and your score just isn’t moving. More likely than not, you have a solid foundation, but using a tutor can help you better understand the content and firm up your test-taking abilities, which will help you to move through the material faster and with more confidence.

  • You’re having trouble motivating yourself to study consistently and could benefit from some outside accountability (other than from your parents). No matter how good your study plan is, the reality is that high school life is hectic. When assignments start to pile up or midterms fall at the same time as soccer playoffs, it can be really helpful to have someone external keeping you accountable for studying in between tutoring sessions. In addition, it really helps to keep your parents’ role a supportive one, rather than feeling like they’re nagging you about studying all the time. Using a tutor can help to keep this separate.

  • You’ve narrowed it down to a few areas that you’re not good at and need help learning those specifics skills. (Pro tip: Sometimes working with a tutor on a single one section is just as helpful.)

How tutors can help:

  • Speeding up the learning curve! If you’re having a hard time seeing a pattern in the questions you’re missing, an extra set of experienced eyes can help you find the pattern and teach you how to master that question type. Oftentimes, the difference between an “okay” score and a “great” score is being able to quickly identify the question type and understanding how to tackle that kind of question.

  • Getting ready for a test that’s coming up sooner than you’d have time to study for on your own! It might take you ages to slog through material on your own, but a tutor can help you “cram” in a way that’s actually effective.

  • Helping you learn general test-taking skills. Much of what it takes to be successful on standardized tests—time management, quick analysis, careful checking—is not taught in a typical class at school. A tutor can share their wisdom and tips to help you improve your score.

Sarah Tibbitts is a 2020 graduate of The Ohio State University and is finishing up a two-year social justice fellowship at Hillel at Stanford University. She is headed to law school in the fall.


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